The Paleoanthropologist Mantra: We Need More Fossils!
Everyone join in and chant “the mantra of all paleontologists: We need more fossils!” If you are a seeker of bones that might give clues of human ancestry, repeating this phrase might relieve stress.
In quotes above is the concluding line of an editorial by David R. Begun in the March 5 issue of Science, 1 reviewing the latest human fossil claim coming from Africa, as reported in the same issue.2 (see also Scientific American). The booty consisted of six fragments of teeth from Ethiopia, found by the team of Haile-Selassie (see 07/17/2001 claim and 08/27/2002 rebuttal), Suwa, and White (see 03/21/2002 and 03/28/2003 headlines). The discoverers claim their teeth show that earlier specimens, thought to represent diverse taxa, might be just variations within a single genus. Apparently, David Begun has not begun to be convinced.
Begun thinks that some of the other recent fossils, “Ardipithecus, Orrorin, and Sahelanthropus offer evidence of striking diversity.” But on what objective criteria? He seems to offer more questions than answers: words like may, unclear, and far from established pepper his article. For example:
It is tempting to see evidence of anagenesis (unilinear evolution) in the late Miocene hominin record in part because continuity is suggested by claims for some evidence of bipedalism in all known taxa. The evidence from Orrorin is ambiguous … whereas that from Sahelanthropus is indirect, based only on the position of the foramen magnum. The region is severely distorted in the only cranial specimen of Sahelanthropus, and even the describers recognize the uncertainty. A. kadabba is interpreted as a biped on the basis of a single toe bone, a foot proximal phalanx, with a dorsally oriented proximal joint surface, as in more recent hominins. However, the same joint configuration occurs in the definitely nonbipedal late Miocene hominid Sivapithecus, and the length and curvature of this bone closely resembles those of a chimpanzee or bonobo. In addition, the specimen is 400,000 to 600,000 years younger than the rest of the A. kadabba sample, 800,000 years older than A. ramidus, and from a locality that is geographically much closer to Aramis than to Asa Koma. It may or may not be from a biped, and if it is, which biped?
Another issue is the canine/premolar complex….
And so it goes. (The Orrorin fossil was announced in Science in 2001; see 02/23/2001 headline). In the final paragraph, Begun gives his opinion on the problem and the solution:
Why the different interpretations? Evidence is scarce and fragmentary, and uncertainty predominates. Interpretations rely especially heavily on past experience to make sense of incomplete evidence. Haile-Selassie and colleagues interpret diversity in fossil hominids in terms of variability and gradual evolutionary change in an evolving lineage. Others see cladistic diversity as opposed to ancestor-descendant relations…. Ancestor-descendant relations must exist , but adaptive radiation and cladogenesis also must exist , or organic diversity would be the same today as it was at the beginning of biological evolution. Rather than a single lineage, the late Miocene hominin fossil record may sample an adaptive radiation , from a source either in Eurasia or yet undiscovered in Africa, the first of several radiations during the course of human evolution…. Regardless, the level of uncertainty in the available direct evidence at this time renders irreconcilable differences of opinion inevitable. The solution is in the mantra of all paleontologists: We need more fossils!
1David R. Begun, “Anthropology: The Earliest Hominins: Is Less More?” Science Volume 303, Number 5663, Issue of 5 Mar 2004, pp. 1478-1480.
2Yohannes Haile-Selassie, Gen Suwa, and Tim White, “Late Miocene Teeth from Middle Awash, Ethiopia, and Early Hominid Dental Evolution,” Science 27 October 2003; accepted 13 January 2004, 10.1126/science.1092978.
Combined with last month’s article by Leslea Hlusko (see 02/19/2004 headline), this has to be one of the most damaging admissions on the subject of human evolution, among dozens of damaging admissions on the subject of human evolution, we have been publishing in Creation-Evolution Headlines for four years. If you can wade past the jargon, the whole tale is one of debate, uncertainty, lack of evidence, controversy, contradiction, dispute, wishful thinking, implausibility, and storytelling, all held together by the glue of faith.
For example, pay special attention to the sentence above where Begun believes that evidence for both descent and diversity must exist, “or organic diversity would be the same today as it was at the beginning of biological evolution.” Aha! Did you catch that? He just said, in effect, if there weren’t any evolution, there wouldn’t be any evolution! He wants it both ways: evidence of diversity, but also evidence of descent, and he has neither. As an admission of blind faith in contradiction to the evidence, one would be hard pressed to find a better example. Without the evidence of evolution in the fossils, in other words, they would have to admit that nothing has changed–the creationists would be right! Gasp! Anything but that!
These blind guides have just made it crystal clear that after 140 years of trying to prove Darwin right, there just is not any fossil evidence for “the descent of man.” What story did you grow up with? Java Man? Peking Man? Heidelberg Man? Those stories are all out the window, and all the new bones are up for grabs for anyone’s interpretation. The creation story, that man has always been man and ape has always been ape, certainly has nothing to fear from the fossil record. Darwin, the latecomer in the origins debate, has the burden of proof.
Much of the futile searching for fragmentary evidence to prop up Charlie would stop if evolutionary paleoanthropologists really took to heart two articles, reported here recently, that portray the hunt to be vanity of vanities, a chasing after wind. Leslea Hlusko last month (02/19/2004 headline) questioned the basic presuppositions of human evolution, showing how visible variations between bones tell nothing about genetics and development or descent. And Tim White (a member of the team publishing this week’s paper) reminded his colleagues a year ago that natural variation and deformation can mimic diversity (03/28/2003 headline). Both these realizations fog up any real evidence of human ancestry. No matter how many bones they dig up, these two articles emphasize the problem we have emphasized all along: anyone can make up any story they want with the evidence, based on their own bias. The confusion that reigns today, after decades of changing stories, shows the folly of trusting false assumptions. As Hlusko rebuked, the answer is not “We need more fossils!” What we need is repentance from the sin of storytelling – and calling it Science.